Author Archives: Soren Kaplan

About Soren Kaplan

Soren Kaplan is the best-selling and award-winning author of Experiential Intelligence, a leading keynote speaker, founder of Praxie.com, and an affiliate at USC’s Center for Effective Organizations. Business Insider and the Thinkers50 have named him one of the world’s top management experts and consultants.

Using Leading and Lagging Indicators to Drive Your Business Forward

You get what you measure, so make sure you’re tracking the right things.

Using Leading and Lagging Indicators to Drive Your Business Forward

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

I’ve seen a lot of organizations create strategies, programs, and projects focused on optimizing operations, streamlining processes, and driving innovation. Leadership teams put lots of energy coming up with the next big thing. But amazingly few teams think about how they’ll measure results. They may say they want revenue growth or cost savings, but that’s about the extent of it. Digging into the details by defining the specific metrics that will help track progress and forecast whether they’re going to achieve their goals in the future often gets neglected.

I’ve used this Key Performance Indicators template to address this challenge. Here’s the basis of why it’s important to use KPIs for your strategy and innovation initiatives, and how to use the template.

Strategy Without Successful Execution Is Just Brainstorming

Between developing strategy and executing it, there’s a step that requires creativity coupled with analytical thinking. It’s defining leading and lagging indicators. Many manufacturing companies and organizations that embrace Six Sigma know the importance of the metrics. Metrics help you quantify success, so you know when you’re achieving it and when you’re not.

Most companies focus on lagging indicators, like how much revenue they made in the last quarter, how many products they sold, or how many new customers they acquired. That’s important information, but those measures are obtained by looking in the rear-view mirror of what’s already happened. In addition to these things, you also need leading indicators to help you predict what will happen in the future. Here’s how to use both of these indicators to translate strategy into tangible implementation plans.

Leading Indicators Help You Predict the Future

Leading Indicators predict how you will perform in the future. They are more easily managed than lagging indicators but are harder to define. For example, if you’re looking to increase sales, you might measure the number of emails you send or sales calls you make. If you know that one in 10 calls results in a sale, the more contacts you make, the higher your sale forecast. Same goes for if you’re running a manufacturing organization. Leading Indicators for a manufacturing plant might include number of incidents that cause production slowdowns or the availability of specific materials in the supply chain.

Lagging Indicators Tell You How You Did

Lagging Indicators are easier to measure because they quantify what happened in the past. For example, a lagging indicator for sales would be measuring the number of products sold last month or number of new customers that signed up for a service. This information is usually easy to obtain and measure. Lagging Indicators are essential for charting progress but are not necessarily that helpful when looking at the inputs needed for achieving your overall desired results.

Create Your Dashboard

If you want innovation, reduced costs, and greater performance, you need to figure out how to do it, and what it looks like when you get it. Creating a set of lagging indicators gives you targets to achieve. But lagging indicators without leading indicators won’t provide focus around what to do–or early warning signals that things might be off track. If you’re manufacturing products, for example, if you’re not measuring whether your suppliers are delivering your materials on time, you might get surprised one day when you realize you don’t have the raw materials you need to achieve your manufacturing targets.

Here’s how to create a simple dashboard that contains both leading and lagging indicators:

  1. Convene your team and identify the specific quantifiable targets that you need to achieve (your lagging indicators). Ask: What does success look like and how do we measure it?
  2. Once you have your lagging indicators, define the inputs needed to achieve them. Ask: What specific things need to happen for us to achieve these targets and how do we measure those things? (your leading indicators)
  3. With your lagging and leading indicators defined, use specific tools to gather and report on your data, whether a spreadsheet or online dashboard.

Management guru Peter Drucker once said, “What’s measured, improves.” If you want to improve your processes and business, figure out what you’re measuring. If you measure only the outputs (lagging indicators), your success will be far less predictable than if you’re also measuring the things that will get you where you want to go.

Image Credit: Praxie.com

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Don’t Blame Quiet Quitting for a Broken Business Strategy

Don't Blame Quiet Quitting for a Broken Business Strategy

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

When it comes to “quiet quitting,” the bigger issue may be a lack of purpose and meaning in your company and culture.

The term “quiet quitting” recently exploded on social media and in business circles. It describes an approach to work that has you doing the very barest minimum to meet your responsibilities. You don’t go above and beyond what’s needed. You do exactly what’s in your job description. Nothing more.

Quiet quitting has become a term to describe the ultimate “disengagement” at work. It flies in the face of the thousands of employee engagement initiatives the exist across U.S. companies today. No wonder it’s a big concern.

I believe there are two ways to look at the uproar surrounding quiet quitting.

1. Quiet quitting has always existed and is normal

One way to look at quiet quitting is that it simply highlights what’s existed forever–that some people just go to work for a paycheck and their “central life interests” lie elsewhere. This topic was in fact the focus of my PhD research many years ago. I analyzed 50 years of workplace motivation data and ultimately concluded most people don’t view their work as their primary life interest. They may still perform at an acceptable level, so they don’t get fired, but they prefer other things like leisure time, family, friends, and community activities over work. They view their job as a means to the end of doing other things outside of work. There was one exception–for senior executives, work provided a greater sense of identify and central life focus.

So, the first way to look at quiet quitting is this: It’s normal. Khan’s TikTok video simply articulated what’s always been true. The uproar arose because the concept challenges the underlying assumption that companies can successfully influence people’s central life interests, so they become more focused on work. Perhaps all the resources we’ve poured into trying to do that for so many years may have actually been futile.

2. Quiet quitting results from a lack of meaning and purpose

Another way to view quiet quitting is that it’s the result of a lack of purpose and meaning in work. If you wholeheartedly believed in your company’s vision, wouldn’t you give it your all? If you felt deeply connected to your company’s purpose, wouldn’t you want to go beyond your job description to make it a reality?

From this perspective, it’s just a matter of clearly defining your purpose and a compelling vision, and then helping everyone see their role in achieving it. It’s a more empowering lens, especially for the internal business functions focused on employee engagement, communication, culture, and strategy.

The goal then is to outline the “why” of your company, including the positive contributions you’ll make for customers and the world. Build a strategy that’s so compelling people won’t want to quiet quit at all. They’ll want to step up and lead the charge.

Moving Forward with Your Quiet Quitting Strategy

The disruptions of the past few years have challenged fundamental assumptions about life and work. Quiet quitting may simply be a pithy word to describe a reality that existed long before the pandemic, but that was amplified because of it.

The two lenses I described don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Both can be true at the same time. If you hold both as valid, your goal is simple: Create a compelling strategy to bring people on board. Give people all the reason in the world not to quietly quit. Then, recognize that some may jump on, others might not. And that’s not just okay, but may also be the new (and old) normal.

Image Credit: Pexels

Check out my new book Experiential Intelligence. The first chapter is available for free download, and the book is available on Amazon.

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups

Six Simple Growth Hacks for Startups

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Building a new business is tough. These strategies will help your startup succeed without a big investment.

As many of my readers know, I usually write about strategy, innovation, and leadership. But recently I’ve been asked a lot about how I helped establish Praxie.com as a destination website for hundreds of best practice digital tools and templates using growth hacking strategies. That’s because it’s incredibly hard to cut through the noise and establish a new brand, website presence, and business model in today’s increasingly cluttered competitive world.

So, here’s what we did to build a brand and drive tens of thousands of visitors to our website each month, all without any significant marketing investment. Anyone who’s focused, methodical, and willing take the time can do it.

1. Create Expert Content

Content is king. You can create it yourself or provide a platform that encourages users to contribute content as part of your business model. Content drives the brand and engages customers. Plus, Google and other search engines index and prioritize pages with solid content, so your specific webpages with noteworthy content will get a boost in SEO rankings and see increased traffic over time. Content comes in many forms: articles, blog posts, listicles, white papers, templates, and videos.

2. Syndicate Content to Grow Backlinks

Backlinks are the lifeblood of SEO. The more that reputable websites link back to your website (or sub-pages on your site), the higher you’ll rank will be in search engines. And the higher your rank, the more organic visitors you’ll receive. Whatever you’re doing or providing as part of your business, position yourself as the expert. Become a source of knowledge and insight for the press, get interviewed on podcasts, write articles for other sites, or do anything else that gets your name (and backlink) out there on the net. This strategy also builds your brand.

3. Become a Video Star

Content isn’t just about the written word. YouTube is now the number-two search engine in the world, right behind Google. Video content highlights your expertise. It gets shared. And it drives traffic to your website that can convert to newsletter signups, subscriptions, and product purchases. Be sure to include keywords in the titles and descriptions of your videos. Also include a plug at the end of the video for where the viewer can learn more (e.g., your website). Re-purpose your videos on social media and embed videos into your website to further reinforce your content expertise.

4. Build Email Relationships

While just about every email inbox is cluttered with spam these days, when someone gives you their email address, they’re essentially giving you permission (opting in) to connect with them. While the same principle applies to social media, email is still a unique, higher-touch, form of connection-making. As compared with social media, email is like pinning a flyer up on someone’s front door versus hoping they see one that has been posted on the corner telephone pole as they walk by. So, create easy ways for people to sign up for newsletters. Connect with others on LinkedIn, where most profiles include email addresses. Focus on building a list and providing high-value communications that use expert content to connect with your audience versus just trying to sell them your product. Many free or inexpensive tools can get you started like Mailchimp and Constant Contact.

5. Measure Everything Using Dashboards

The only way to gauge progress is to measure it. Use Google Analytics to track your most important metrics, like the number of visitors, landing pages, conversion rates for your newsletter and purchases, and more. Use free tools like those provided by Moz and Similarweb to benchmark yourself against the competition. Connect social media metrics and advertising into a dashboard that provides a holistic picture of the business. But don’t spend too much time cobbling together data. Keep it simple so you can get a quick read on how you’re doing while spending most of your time doing the things that grow your business.

6. Test, Retest, and Test Again

Google recently introduced a great tool called Optimize. Optimize allows you to quickly run tests on your website or individual web pages. By creating A/B tests that serve up different page headings, product prices, button colors, etc., you can gain insight into what works and what doesn’t based on what you’re trying to achieve. Track which market positioning statements result in the most newsletter signups or which price model delivers the greatest revenue. Running tests should be an ongoing activity which essentially means you’re taking the winning formula from your A/B test and then running another A/B test using that as the baseline. Connect your tests to your data analytics to track what works (and doesn’t) over time.

Most small startups don’t have big funding. That’s why growth hacks are so important. Use a little elbow grease, coupled with savvy customer engagement strategies, to build the basis for market traction. You might need to give it a little time to yield results, but that’s also what’s needed to create an enduring business.

Image Credit: Getty Images (acquired by Soren Kaplan)

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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6 Ways to Leverage Virtual Tools to Create an Innovation Culture

6 Ways to Leverage Virtual Tools to Create an Innovation Culture

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Culture is a key success factor for every team and organization. Shape it to get more innovation, even from your remote workforce.

Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Box, Slack, and Salesforce all say that employees can keep working remotely well into next year or even forever. We’re seeing a sea change toward remote work and how to make it more fun and effective. But what happens to the culture of teams and organizations in a virtual world?

In my book, The Invisible Advantage: How to Create a Culture of Innovation, I define culture as “the norms and values that shape behavior.” If you want to change culture to get more innovation, for example, you need to change norms and values toward things that inspire people to generate ideas, prioritize the best ones, test them out, and implement them using customer input. So how do you do that when you’re working remotely and it’s impossible to gather around the water cooler?

To change norms and values, you need to first change your own behavior, since our behavior is what ultimately communicates and reinforces what’s important. If you want more innovation, you need to do things that demonstrate you’re serious about soliciting ideas and doing something with them.

Here are six things you can do to get more innovation from your remote team in today’s virtual world:

1. Find Problems to Fuel Ideas

Innovation starts with problems. Ineffective leaders ignore problems and sweep them under the carpet. Innovative leaders love problems because they’re the basis for new ideas. Every month, ask your team to share the toughest problems they’re facing due to working remotely or in their work serving customers. Keep a running list that you can continually prioritize. The result: People see you’re serious about addressing real issues and they don’t hold back sharing problems that, if solved, will make a big different for the business.

2. Bring on Virtual Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a simple process that includes generating lots of ideas, prioritizing them, and the selection the best of the best to pursue. Get a tool specifically designed for online brainstorming, like Mural, Lucidchart, or Ideaboardz. The result: People learn the brainstorming process and your team will have online tools that are just as effective as stickies on a white board.

3. Tell Symbolic Stories

People remember stories. And stories contain messages about what’s important and why. Look for current or past examples of “innovation” from your team, other teams in your organization, or even outside your company. Find stories about how people overcame physical distance or used technology to innovate. Discuss what led to success and how you can do similar things as a team working remotely. The result: People internalize what’s important and why and will re-tell the same stories to others as part of reinforcing culture.

4. Pair Up to Show Up

Working remotely can feel isolating. Pair people to tackle a tough idea or problem. Give pairs time to work together and then report back progress. Use the larger team to provide feedback and support each pair’s efforts. Run virtual “innovation synch-ups,” where pairs share their ideas with the larger team and get feedback. The result: Pairing people up builds relationships infused with the values of innovation while ensuring more robust results.

5. Count It to Make It Count

You get what you measure. Set a target to collect some number of new ideas per month (like 15-20) and successfully implement 1-2 as a team. Track and report on progress regularly so everyone knows the targets are serious success measures. Create an online dashboard that you that you use to track progress from meeting to meeting. The result: People see the importance of quantifiable results and feel accountable to them.

6. Celebrate Wins to Create a Winning Team

Recognition of achievements and team celebrations are as important as ever. When someone delivers an innovation–whether creating a new product, service, process, or anything else–recognize them publicly. During virtual team meetings, set aside time for “virtual awards” to recognize those who have made valuable contributions. Email or snail mail a certificate or gift card in advance so recipients have real-world awards in their possession during the ceremony. The result: People understand the innovative behavior and results that are valued and will do what they can to deliver more of it themselves.

As I wrote in my last article, business should ideally keep going and growing, even in a pandemic or economic downturn. Innovation shouldn’t stop either. If you’re not innovating, it’s likely someone else is. And it’s likely your competition. In today’s world, everything eventually gets disrupted. Your culture is ultimately your only sustainable competitive advantage-even in a virtual world. Shape yours today.

If you want to see how you can build tools & resources to support your remote team, visit Praxie.com.

Image credits: Getty Images (acquired by Soren Kaplan)

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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This 9-Box Grid Can Help Grow Your Best Future Talent

This 9-Box Grid Can Help Grow Your Best Future Talent

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Hiring good people is tough. Retaining your best talent can be equally challenging. In today’s disruptive world, competitive advantage relies as much on people as it does technology.

So, how do you objectively know which people are your all-stars, especially in a bigger organization? And not just the best talent today, but the best for the future?

I originally wrote this article for my Inc. Magazine column. My team at Praxie.com created an online 9-Box app and I was stunned at how much interest there was from across industries for this solution.

Keeping & Growing Talent is Today’s Name of the Game

Just as it’s easier and cheaper to retain customers than to acquire new ones, the same goes for employees. Knowing who your current and future all-stars are helps you keep them and gives you the opportunity to help them grow into more strategic roles.

The 9-box talent grid categorizes your people into nine categories. The grid contains two axes, performance and potential, each of which includes three levels each: low, moderate, and high. When you match up the categories on the axes, you get nine boxes that become classifications.

Categorizing people helps reveal who’s contributing the most now, and who will likely contribute the most in the future:

  1. Stars (High Potential, High Performance): Consistently high performance with high potential. Will likely become part of the future leadership team.
  2. High Potentials (High Potential, Moderate Performance): Solid performance overall with high potential to grow. Will most likely advance in current or future roles and may become part of the future leadership team.
  3. Enigmas (High Potential, Low Performance): While high potential, challenges exist in performance that may require additional support or training and development.
  4. High Performer (Moderate Potential, High Performance): Consistently high performance with solid potential to advance in current role and future positions with the right opportunity.
  5. Key Player (Moderate Potential, Moderate Performance): Overall good performance and potential with additional support and opportunities to grow.
  6. Inconsistent Player (Moderate Potential, Low Performance): Low performance and moderate potential require additional support and training to validate growth opportunity.
  7. Workhorses (Low Potential, High Performance): Highly effective performance yet may have peaked in terms of potential so coaching or training may help elevate potential.
  8. Backups (Low Potential, Moderate Performance): Decent performance and an asset but may not become a more significant contributor.
  9. Bad Hires (Low Potential, Low Performance): Low performance coupled with low potential means re-evaluating overall role in organization.

The team at Praxie.com has made the 9-Box application available to try to free.

9 Box Example

Shoot for the Stars

The easiest way is to assign people to the categories is based on your experience working with them. Or, if you’re in a larger organization, collect inputs from managers and aggregate the results.

Here’s how it works: The CEO of an organization works with their HR director to collect inputs from managers within the sales department. Twenty-five sales representatives are mapped into the nine boxes. The results are used to provide additional incentives, identify people for leadership development programs, and promote individual reps to managers for new territories.

The 9-box grid provides a snapshot in time. Use the tool to continually assess and reassess your talent. You’ll see some people move up and to the right while others may stay stagnant. Use these trends to help people grow. It won’t improve just your organizational culture. It will also improve your business.

Image credits: Praxie.com

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Empathy: The Currency of Human Connection and Innovation

Empathy: The Currency of Human Connection and Innovation

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Having worked with innovation teams from global companies like Visa, Colgate-Palmolive, Kimberly-Clark, Disney, Medtronic and many others, there’s one consistent success factor when it comes to innovation, no matter what you’re doing: it all starts with the customer.

Companies spend oodles of time and money trying to understand customers. They conduct surveys, hire market researchers, run focus groups, analyze social media, and the list goes on. What’s often missed, however, are customers’ deeper needs and underlying pain points that really matter to them. Quantitative surveys, for example, might give you a sense of a market’s overall sentiment about a topic, but you won’t get to know someone’s personal struggles and underlying motivations from checkboxes on an online form.

Instead, you need to truly put yourself in the customer’s shoes. It’s not just about intellectually understanding their situation. It’s about tapping into the emotions they feel, and even feeling them yourself as part of the process of connecting to their experience.

Empathy Reveals New Opportunities

I recently led a leadership development program for a large health care provider with hundreds of hospitals. They wanted to understand their patients better, so they could come up with innovations to help them stay healthy and avoid costly visits to the doctor and hospital. Initially, the team had ideas to provide promotional materials on how to eat healthier and exercise.

As part of the process, a small team went to visit patients at their homes in rural areas. At one house, they discovered a giant water tank had been built by a company that towered over their patient’s home–and it was slowly dripping water on the roof, creating a whole variety of problems, including causing the beginnings of respiratory issues for the woman living in the house due to mold. The team was shocked.

The team realized that pamphlets about healthy eating and exercise wouldn’t do much to help. They also recognized that in certain cases they might need to provide radically different types of support to their patients as part of ensuring their overall health, beyond just providing traditional health care. They helped the woman contact the water tank company to fix the leak. They have also since expanded their approach around prevention to address various “social determinants of health” in communities like poor quality water, lack of healthy food, and other issues that lead to health issues long before someone shows symptoms of a formal medical issue.

Immersing yourself in the world of your customers through visits, observation, interviews, and other interactions can provide a new perspective around issues, problems, and assumptions.

Capture Concrete Observations

Empathy is a core element of “design thinking,” a common approach used for product and service innovation. It’s also a concept that can be hard to understand when it comes to translating what you might see and hear into something meaningful about the customer. Here’s a template for doing just that from Praxie.com.

Customer Empathy Map

The next time you connect with a customer, consider the following to help capture concrete observations:

  • Say: What does the customer explicitly say?
  • Feel: What are the customer’s emotions?
  • Think: What occupies the customer’s thoughts?
  • Do: What does the customer do in public?

By providing a structure for cataloguing your observations, you can turn what might seem as ambiguous into something tangible.

Turn Observations into Insight

It’s one thing to observe customers. It’s another to translate what you observe into real insights that help catalyze new ideas.

Once you’ve cataloged your observations, take a step back. Consider the ultimate “pain points” that your customer experiences. What are the customer’s top problems or frustrations? Also be sure to consider the “gain” the customer hopes to achieve. What does the customer hope to accomplish or achieve?

Answering these questions helps move general observations into insights that can be used as the basis for generating new ideas.

Give the World Your Empathy

Empathy is the currency of human connection. We all crave it. And when we give it to others, we build and deepen relationships. Try empathizing with others. You’ll see the returns in the form of a better world, and greater innovation.

Image credits: Praxie.com, Pexels

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Surfacing Your Hidden Assumptions

Successful strategy and innovation are about how fast you can become aware of your assumptions.

Surfacing Your Hidden Assumptions

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

When it comes to strategy and innovation, success depends on how fast you become aware of your assumptions and then modify them. But it’s a paradox:  You can’t see your most fundamental assumptions until you overcome them. This means that you can only understand your mindsets that were barriers retrospectively.

Let’s look at how this works. I have a quick story for you, then a question.

A bus driver was heading down Van Ness Avenue in my hometown of San Francisco. He went through a stop sign without even slowing down, then turned onto a one-way street going the opposite direction as the rest of the traffic. A police officer saw the whole thing but he didn’t stop him or issue a ticket because no laws had been broken. The question for you is this: How can this scenario be possible?

If you answered that the bus driver was walking down the street, you are correct. This is a very simple example to illustrate how we all make assumptions. Most people just assume that a bus driver is always driving a bus. But of course, that’s not the case. The most important part of this exercise isn’t to point out that an assumption may have been made in the first place – it’s only natural to do so. It’s to show that most of us only recognize that we’ve made an assumption after we’ve discovered that our thinking was invalid or that it led us astray. And by then, it can often be “too late.”

Let’s go back to the bus driver for a moment. What if I had framed things up in the scenario a little differently and included another statement up front that said “In San Francisco, people use cars, take the bus, or walk down the street to get where they’re going.”  How would this have impacted your assumptions? For most people, the idea that it’s possible the bus driver could be walking down the street would have been planted in their brains as they read the rest of the scenario – and they would have more easily overcome their limiting assumption that bus drivers only drive buses. The goal is to continually broaden your perspective so that you can overcome your assumptions before they limit your options or slow you down.

Here are a couple of tried and true approaches I’ve used to challenge and expand mindsets.

Identify Areas of Intrigue

When it comes to developing your strategy or innovating, get clear on what you need to know and learn. List up to 4-5 topics. Examples might include things like board games children like most, the healthiest yet best tasting desserts, or the most successful social media influencers. For each topic, create a list of guiding questions that, if answered, would really give you a solid understanding of the area. For instance, using the board games children like mostexample, you could come up with questions like: What are the most popular children’s board games? How long do the best games take to play? Do adults usually play with the children? What does it take to win? This exercise will help you better understand what’s most important to further explore so you can broaden your perspective.

Adapt a Business Model

Find a company completely outside of your industry or market and look at what makes them different and what they do really well.  Then adapt their model to your cause.  Use the format “I want to be the ____________ of ____________” by putting a company name into the first blank and the area of your target market or innovation area into the second blank.  For example, if you want to transform the fashion industry, you might try “I want to be the Netflix of fashion”, which could lead you down the path of high-end evening gown rental services like Rent the Runway.  Consider companies like Starbucks, Twitter, Domino’s, NIKE, Home Depot, or any other innovative company you can think of.

Your mindsets naturally constrain your ability to consider alternatives and possibilities that go beyond the boundaries of your thinking. Your limiting assumptions can be about personal skills, team knowledge and abilities, organizational capabilities, market needs, technology, financial limitations, partnership possibilities, competition, or just about anything else. The goal is to recognize you hold assumptions and then act to surface them.

As the writer John Seely Brown once said, the harder you fight to hold on to specific assumptions, the more likely there’s gold in letting go of them.

Image credit: Pexels

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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